Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
SOURCE: NYT (9-22-12)
SOURCE: NYT (9-23-12)
Bill Keller is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and former executive editor for the newspaper.
...It’s not really over for Salman Rushdie, whose new memoir recounts a decade under a clerical death sentence for the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses.” That fatwa, if not precisely the starting point in our modern confrontation with Islamic extremism, was a major landmark. The fatwa was dropped in 1998 and Rushdie is out of hiding, but he is still careful. His book tour for “Joseph Anton” (entitled for the pseudonym he used in his clandestine life) won’t be taking him to Islamabad or Cairo.
Rushdie grew up in a secular Muslim family, the son of an Islam scholar. His relationship to Islam was academic, then literary, before it became excruciatingly personal. His memoir is not a handbook on how America should deal with the Muslim world. But he brings to that subject a certain moral authority and the wisdom of an unusually motivated thinker. I invited him to help me draw some lessons from the stormy Arab Summer.
The first and most important thing Rushdie will tell you is, it’s not about religion. Not then, not now...
SOURCE: Asia Sentinel (9-20-12)
Philip Bowrin is a former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and columnist for the International Herald Tribune.
SOURCE: Boston Globe (9-23-12)
Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-20-12)
Michael Dobbs is a prize-winning foreign correspondent and author. Currently serving as a Goldfarb fellow at the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Dobbs is following legal proceedings in The Hague.
Earlier this week, I received a call from the Washington Post's political fact checker, Glenn Kessler, asking about a Benjamin Netanyahu quote relating to the Cuban missile crisis. The Israeli prime minister was citing President Kennedy's handling of the Soviet missile threat from Cuba to bolster his demands for a clear "red line" before Iran. Netanyahu would like the Obama administration to tell the Iranians that the United States will take military action if they seem likely to acquire sufficient weapons-grade plutonium to make a nuclear bomb.
"President Kennedy put a red line before the Soviets in the Cuban missile crisis," Netanyahu told CNN on September 16. "He was criticized for it, but it actually pushed the world back from conflict and maybe purchased decades of peace."
In my reply to Kessler, I noted that "everybody quotes JFK when it is in their interest." President George W. Bush cited Kennedy's actions during the missile crisis approvingly back in 2002, as part of his justification for going to war with Iraq. But we should be wary of simplistic historical parallels, in both the Iraq and Iran cases....
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-19-12)
Jeffrey Lewis is director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
...If you know one thing about nuclear weapons, it is probably the eminently sensible moral from the movie WarGames: Regarding thermonuclear war, "the only winning move is not to play." Well, that's Hollywood. As recently declassified documents on the Carter administration's nuclear strategy make clear, the illusion of the winning move has been a reliable part of U.S. thinking about nuclear weapons. As long as the United States holds out the prospect of fighting and winning a nuclear war against China, the dialogue is going nowhere....
Some policymakers sought to impose some sort of limitations on the nuclear arms race, which seemed to be spiraling out of control by the early 1960s. In 1963, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara championed a thought experiment to size U.S. nuclear forces. Imagine the United States has a force of 1-megaton nuclear bombs that we begin dropping on the Soviet Union, starting with Moscow. (Of course the United States did not have a force of uniform 1-megaton bombs, nor do we target cities. This was a thought experiment.) McNamara's Whiz Kids observed that the damage to the Soviet Union started to level off around the 400th bomb. McNamara didn't know whether 400 1-megaton bombs would deter another Joseph Stalin, but it was damn clear that if 400 didn't do the trick, flattening Perm with number 401 was a fool's errand.
The resulting policy was called "assured destruction" -- the idea that once the United States had a survivable force capable of about 400 equivalent megatons that could kill much of the Soviet Union's population and destroy its industry, there wasn't much point in making the rubble bounce. Say what you will about the tenets of assured destruction -- at least it was a ceiling.
Kahn and others did not like "assured destruction" because it did not hold out the possibility of prevailing in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, something they believed was possible with bomb shelters, missile defenses, and hard hearts. (Decades later one proponent of victory summarized the argument by saying, "If there are enough shovels to go around, everyone will make it.") They went after assured destruction....
SOURCE: BBC (9-19-12)
David Donovan is the pen name of scientist Terry T Turner, of the University of Virginia. He served in the US army from 1967 to 1970, and saw frontline action in Vietnam. He has written a number of books about his experiences there.
SOURCE: National Interest (9-20-12)
Michael Pevzner was a program officer in Moscow with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
SOURCE: American Spectator (9-20-12)
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
SOURCE: Middle East Voice (9-13-12)
Pratik Chougule served at the State Department in the George W. Bush Administration.
SOURCE: Forbes (9-16-12)
David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
SOURCE: The Atlantic (9-19-12)
Jordan Weissmann is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He has written for a number of publications, including The Washington Post and The National Law Journal.
Here's a finding that would have made for great occupy sign last year: American income inequality may be more severe today than it was way back in 1774 -- even if you factor in slavery.
That stat's not actually as crazy (or demoralizing) as it sounds, but it might upend some of the old wisdom about our country's economic heritage. The conclusion comes to us from an newly updated study by professors Peter Lindert of the University of California - Davis and Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard. Scraping together data from an array of historical resources, the duo have written a fascinating exploration of early American incomes, arguing that, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, wealth was distributed more evenly across the 13 colonies than anywhere else in the world that we have record of.
Suffice to say, times have changed....
SOURCE: National Interest (9-19-12)
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
SOURCE: TomDispatch (9-18-12)
Jen Marlowe is an author, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist. Her latest book (written with Sami Al Jundi) is The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey From Prisoner to Peacemaker and her most recent film is One Family in Gaza. She is the founder of donkeysaddle projects. You can follow her on Twitter at @donkeysaddleorg.
Jihan Kazerooni and I drove past scores of armed riot police on Budaiya highway as her iPhone buzzed non-stop: phone calls, Skype calls and, incessantly, Twitter. I had wondered what the phrase “Twitter revolution” really meant when I heard it used in connection with Iran in 2009 and Egypt in 2011. Here, in the small Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain, I was beginning to grasp the concept.
I was in that country for three weeks as a part of the Witness Bahrain initiative, a group of internationals seeking to document and expose human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime against protesters and activists. Aside from brief spurts of coverage, the crisis in Bahrain had largely been ignored by the U.S. media.
Perhaps the lack of coverage of the predominantly Shi’a uprising against an increasingly repressive Sunni monarchy can be explained, in part, by this: Washington considers that monarchy its close ally; Bahrain is the home of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, and the beneficiary of U.S. arms sales. Perhaps it has to do with the U.S.-Saudi friendship, and the increasing tension between the U.S. and Iran. Bahrain has been portrayed as a battleground for influence between neighboring Saudi Arabia (a supporter of the monarchy) and nearby majority Shi’a Iran.
Ignoring the revolution underway there and its demands for freedom and democracy is, however, perilous. If activists move from largely peaceful demonstrations toward the use of violence, Bahrain could prove the powder keg that might set the Persian Gulf aflame. Peaceful activists like Jihan currently hold sway, but given the brutality I witnessed, it’s unclear how long the Bahraini revolution will remain nonviolent.
Jihan took me under her wing, introducing me to dozens of Bahrainis who had been directly affected by the regime’s crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising. They were not difficult to find. There was someone in nearly every Shi’a family, Jihan’s included, who had been fired from his or her job, arrested, injured, or killed. Sunni opposition activists (though much fewer in number) had been harshly targeted as well.
Hitting the Road
Jihan, her hair tucked underneath a brown silk scarf and wearing fashionable sunglasses, opened an app on her phone as we tried to reach the march that had been called by a coalition of opposition parties.
“I’ll tweet that I am here in Budaiya Road, and there are no checkpoints in the area, but there are lots of riot police.” A new tweet came through before Jihan could finish composing hers. She scanned it quickly as she skillfully guided her car around a traffic circle. “Okay. The attack started,” she said. “It’s just at the next roundabout. We might be able to see it from the car.” Jihan rolled down the window. “Can you smell the tear gas?” she asked, began coughing, and immediately rolled her window up again.
As we continued our drive, grey clouds of tear gas billowed up from village after village, Jihan constantly checking her Twitter feed and rattling off the names of areas currently under assault: “A protest in Dair has been attacked and in Tashan as well. A’ali, also the same. Now they are attacking the women in the north of Bilad.”
New tweets buzzed. “Lots of injuries, actually, a woman has been injured, I’ll show you the picture…” She turned her phone my way, allowing me to glimpse a photograph of a bloody limb. “It’s her arm,” Jihan said, telling me that she suspected the injury was from “a sound bomb or a tear gas canister.”
The Evolution of an Activist
Jihan had not started out as an activist. She had been an investment banker, shopping in Bahrain’s high-end malls and socializing with friends. Demonstrations erupted at the Pearl Roundabout -- with its imposing 300-foot monument of six arches holding a pearl aloft -- in the capital city, Manama, on February 14, 2011, and only grew larger by the day as casualties and fatalities mounted. Still, she did not participate.
She had been largely ignorant of the protesters’ complaints: the same prime minister had governed for 42 years; the majority Shi’a community faced discrimination from the ruling Sunnis, evidenced most clearly by the fact that they couldn’t join the country’s military or its police. Instead, the government was importing foreigners from Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria, among other countries, to fill the ranks of the security services, often offering them Bahraini citizenship (which also threatened to alter Sunni-Shi’a demographics). The royal family had taken large swathes of public land for private benefit.
Jihan instead believed the version of the uprising being offered on state-controlled television. In that narrative, the protesters were not peaceful, but armed and dangerous. They had, the government claimed, stolen blood-bags from the hospital and were pouring that blood on themselves to feign injuries for the media. Force was being applied by the regime rarely and only when it was absolutely necessary to disperse those demonstrating. Government spokespeople claimed Shi’a doctors at Salmaniya Hospital were taking patients and co-workers hostage.
On the morning of March 13th, Jihan received a few text messages on her way to her office, appealing for people’s presence at the Pearl Roundabout because government forces were attacking. She decided to go and see for herself what was taking place.
What she saw shook her to the core: unarmed protesters -- women and children among them -- chanting for democracy, freedom, and equality as riot police fired bullets, birdshot, and tear gas canisters directly into the crowd. Jihan stood to the side, crying, as women around her wailed and read aloud from Qur’an.
Then, in the distance, she noticed bodies being loaded into cars. She couldn’t tell if they were dead or wounded, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away either as the cars were filled and each drove towards nearby Salmaniya Hospital.
It was there that Jihan drove next, and found more wounded patients than available beds. Protesters who were injured by birdshot or overcome by tear gas were lying on white sheets spread across the parking lot, awaiting treatment from overburdened doctors and nurses.
The following day, 1,000 Saudi troops entered Bahrain at the request of the regime, backed by 500 police from the United Arab Emirates.The troops drove the protesters out of the Pearl Roundabout, destroyed the iconic Pearl Monument, and Bahrain’s King Hamad declared a state of emergency.
Soon after, house raids leading to mass arrests began. Most of the opposition leaders were jailed, along with thousands of protesters. Journalists were targeted, as were teachers, health-care professionals, and star Bahraini athletes. Hundreds of cases of torture (some to the death) were reported, and thousands were fired from government jobs for demonstrating, or, in many cases, merely because they were Shi’a.
Jihan realized that continuing with her former life was inconceivable. She visited Nabeel Rajab, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, to ask how she could help. Hard as it had been to come to him, Jihan told Nabeel, she could no longer stay silent and on the sidelines.
A colleague of Nabeel’s trained Jihan in how to document human rights violations. Soon, she began doing so in cases involving medical professionals who had been imprisoned and tortured by the regime for treating injured protesters -- and for speaking out about the injuries they were seeing.
By the time I met Jihan, she was an experienced activist with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the founding vice president of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), which seeks to aid in the treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims.
The Battle for the Future of Bahrain
Seasoned as she was, Jihan was thoroughly shaken by the time we left an underground clinic late one night. There, nurses had secretly stitched up the gaping head wound of 13-year-old “Hussein,” shot with a tear gas canister after a march that had, ironically, been called to protest the excessive use of tear gas.
Jihan and I had been to the protest and, at its end, were speaking to bare-chested youths holding Molotov cocktails, their faces wrapped in t-shirts. “This [Molotov] is not violence,” one of them insisted. “What’s violence is what they use against us, live bullets. We are defending ourselves. We’re not attacking. If they attack us, we respond.”
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a shout went up that the riot police were on their way. Jihan and I peeled away in a friend’s jeep, looking out the back window as arcs of light from tear gas canisters and burning Molotovs streaked across the night sky.
We thought we saw a tear gas canister hit a fleeing child in the head, and when Jihan received a phone call about the injury soon afterwards, we rushed to the underground clinic.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Jihan told me the next morning. “That thirteen-year old child we saw was in front of my eyes.”
She reached Hussein’s older brother by phone after several attempts. Hussein, he reported, was vomiting, not eating, and suffering from headaches. In typical fashion, Jihan sprang into action, contacting several doctors and medical professionals for consultation. There might be a serious problem, one that only a CT scan could detect, a specialist told her. Jihan’s worry deepened.
“Doctors with private clinics don’t have CT scan or X-ray machines, so we need to arrange a hospital for him, which is very risky. [Hussein’s family] won’t accept taking him to the hospital. They will be scared that he will be arrested, so, really, I don’t know what to do,” she told me, pressing her iPhone against her forehead. “It’s a very big decision, taking him to the hospital.”
There was good reason for all of them to fear the boy’s arrest. A few days earlier, Jihan and I had visited 11-year-old Ali Hasan, who had just been released after nearly a month in juvenile prison. He had been playing soccer outside, Ali told us, when armed riot police approached. His friends had managed to run away, but frozen in fear, he was arrested and charged with blocking the road in advance of a demonstration. What did he miss most while imprisoned? Ali responded without hesitation: his two little sisters and toddler-aged brother.
We watched Ali romp with his younger siblings, he tussling with and tickling them, they leaping on him with shrieks of laughter. It would have been easy to miss the shadow that crossed his face when he spoke about how frightened he had been, locked up without his mother.
Evidence of trauma was hardly borne by this boy alone.
I saw it when a male medical worker broke down weeping as he described what he had witnessed at Salmaniya hospital during the crackdown on Pearl Roundabout.
I heard it in the voice of Dr. Nabeel Hameed, one of the doctors arrested and tortured by the regime, as he described his struggles with depression, anger, and confusion since his release, and detected it in Dr. Zahra Alsammak’s flat affect when she declined to describe the torture that her husband, also a doctor, had endured.
I recognized it in the crayon drawings by the children of prisoners and “martyred” protesters, replete with gun-wielding police, tanks, stick figures behind bars, and bodies on stretchers.
I felt it in the mother of Ali Jawad Al-Sheikh, as she buried her face in a pile of her son’s t-shirts and breathed in their scent, as she has done every night since 14-year-old Ali was killed.
“There has been a lot of damage and hurt, the people won’t forget it very soon,” Jihan told me. “Even if we got our freedom tomorrow, the people need time to be healed.”
If the regime did not institute “true reforms,” and soon -- which I saw no indication of -- Jihan predicted that the government would soon be facing a more aggressive generation. “We don’t want that,” she said forcefully. “We started peacefully and we want to stay peaceful… We are trying our best to advise [the youth] not to hold these Molotov cocktails. But, at the end, I think if the violence [against them] increases, it will be very difficult to control them.”
The impact of the trauma does not escape the activists. Jihan described documenting the killing of Ahmed Ismail Hassan, a 22-year old citizen-journalist shot in the lower abdomen by live ammunition as he was filming a protest. Jihan had never seen so much blood. For two days, the smell of blood in her nostrils prevented her from eating and for two nights she could not close her eyes.
“Every day we’re documenting and seeing these violations, so we’re under a lot of pressure. In the end, we are human beings. We get affected, we get hurt. The leaders and the human rights activists, we can’t show the people that we’re affected and broken from inside. If the people see that we are collapsed internally, what kind of strength will they get from us? Sometimes I get broken from inside, I disappear for a few days, but I try my best to fight depression. I try to keep busy and not think about it.”
A Country at a Crossroads
I asked Jihan about the possibility of her own arrest.
“I think that they will target me very soon,” she said. “At any time they might raid my home and arrest me.” She fears most the possibility of torture. She’s documented enough cases to know just what she might be forced to endure. But she adds, “I do believe that getting freedom and democracy for the coming generation is very important, and highlighting the violations that are happening in the country is very important. Freedom is not something easy to get -- we have to pay and to sacrifice for it. Fear of arrest won’t stop me from doing my humanitarian job. I won’t give up.”
Jihan’s fellow Bahraini activists are not giving up either. They continue to head out onto the streets night after night, despite the fierce repression they face from the regime and the silent complicity of most of the world. Yet there is reason to worry about where the Bahraini uprising is heading. As Dr. Nabeel Hameed put it, “The situation is getting entrenched, it’s getting stagnated. Nobody sees a solution, and this gives loss of hope. And one of the most dangerous positions you can put a human being in is loss of hope. Because when somebody loses hope, he’s capable of doing anything.”
Juxtaposed with despair, however, is the resilience -- or sumud (steadfastness) -- that could be seen everywhere I looked. It was in the drawings of the children, who defiantly portrayed hands raised in a “V” for victory sign among images of bloodshed. It was in the graffiti depicting the Pearl Monument on walls all over Bahrain, with the stenciled message “We Will Return.” It was in the youth we secretly filmed in their villages after midnight spray-painting bus stops and light poles with the colors of the Bahraini flag.
And it was reflected in 13-year old Hussein, who called Jihan two days after being stitched back together without anesthesia to report, to her great relief, that his vomiting had ceased and his appetite had returned.
Hussein tried to thank Jihan for her help, but she would not permit it. “No need to say thanks, habibi [my dear]. I’m only doing my duty.”
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SOURCE: The Week (9-13-12)
Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large, and writes The Compass blog
The sudden swing of American attention to North Africa has clarified the way Mitt Romney sees his country's place in the world. Setting aside the merits of his campaign's timing, because you can say just about anything if the timing is right, it is worth taking a brief tour through the Museum of Provocative Weakness. That phrase is a favorite of Ambassador John Bolton, who said on August 28 that Romney "doesn't believe strength is provocative, he believes that American weakness is provocative." It has been used many times by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. After the decision had been made to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld told ABC News that it didn't really matter if a war enrages Arab populations in the Middle East. "All I can say is if history has taught anything, it's that weakness is provocative. It entices people into doing things that they otherwise would not do." When Rumsfeld was fired by President Bush three years later, he used his final turn at the podium to say that "it is not only clear that weakness is provocative, but [that] the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative."
This phrase is the beating heart of Mitt Romney's world view. You can see it in his books. You can hear it whenever he condemns President Obama for his "apology tour." In practice, this means that whenever America has a choice about whether to demonstrate its will to power, it ought to exercise it. Anything else would telegraph weakness, a lack of resolve, that tips the balance of power in the world away from the good guys....
SOURCE: TomDispatch (9-16-12)
Rebecca Solnit was an antinuclear activist in the 1980s and 1990s, as her 1994 book Savage Dreams recounts. The author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, she is currently speaking about disaster, civil society, and utopia in programs with the Free University of New York, the San Francisco Public Library’s One City One Book program, and Cal Humanities.
Occupy is now a year old. A year is an almost ridiculous measure of time for much of what matters: at one year old, Georgia O’Keeffe was not a great painter, and Bessie Smith wasn’t much of a singer. One year into the Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was still in progress, catalyzed by the unknown secretary of the local NAACP chapter and a preacher from Atlanta -- by, that is, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Occupy, our bouncing baby, was born with such struggle and joy a year ago, and here we are, 12 long months later.
Occupy didn’t seem remarkable on September 17, 2011, and not a lot of people were looking at it when it was mostly young people heading for Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. But its most remarkable aspect turned out to be its staying power: it didn’t declare victory or defeat and go home. It decided it was home and settled in for two catalytic months.
Tents and general assemblies and the acts, tools, and ideas of Occupy exploded across the nation and the western world from Alaska to New Zealand, and some parts of the eastern world -- Occupy Hong Kong was going strong until last week. For a while, it was easy to see that this baby was something big, but then most, though not all, of the urban encampments were busted, and the movement became something subtler. But don’t let them tell you it went away.
The most startling question anyone asked me last year was, “What is Occupy’s 10-year plan?”
Who takes the long view? Americans have a tendency to think of activism like a slot machine, and if it doesn’t come up three jailed bankers or three clear victories fast, you’ve wasted your quarters. And yet hardly any activists ever define what victory would really look like, so who knows if we’ll ever get there?
Sometimes we do get three clear victories, but because it took a while or because no one was sure what victory consisted of, hardly anyone realizes a celebration is in order, or sometimes even notices. We get more victories than anyone imagines, but they are usually indirect, incomplete, slow to arrive, and situations where our influence can be assumed but not proven -- and yet each of them is worth counting.
More Than a Handful of Victories
For the first anniversary of Occupy, large demonstrations have been planned in New York and San Francisco and a host of smaller actions around the country, but some of the people who came together under the Occupy banner have been working steadily in quiet ways all along, largely unnoticed. From Occupy Chattanooga to Occupy London, people are meeting weekly, sometimes just to have a forum, sometimes to plan foreclosure defenses, public demonstrations, or engage in other forms of organizing. On August 22nd, for instance, a foreclosure on Kim Mitchell’s house in a low-income part of San Francisco was prevented by a coalition made up of Occupy Bernal and Occupy Noe Valley (two San Francisco neighborhoods) along with ACCE, the group that succeeded the Republican-destroyed ACORN.
It was a little victory in itself -- and another that such an economically and ethnically diverse group was working together so beautifully. Demonstrations and victories like it are happening regularly across the country, including in Minnesota, thanks to Occupy Homes. Earlier this month, Occupy Wall Street helped Manhattan restaurant workers defeat a lousy boss and a worker lock-out to unionize a restaurant in the Hot and Crusty chain. (While shut out, the employees occupied the sidewalk and ran the Worker Justice Café there.)
In Providence, Rhode Island, the Occupy encampment broke up late last January, but only on the condition that the city open a daytime shelter for homeless people. At Princeton University, big banks are no longer invited to recruit on campus, most likely thanks to Occupy Princeton.
There have been thousands of little victories like these and some big ones as well: the impact of the Move Your Money initiative, the growing revolt against student-loan-debt peonage, and more indirectly the passing of a California law protecting homeowners from the abuse of the foreclosure process (undoubtedly due in part to Occupy’s highlighting of the brutality and corruption of that process).
But don’t get bogged down in the tangible achievements, except as a foundation. The less tangible spirit of Occupy and the new associations it sparked are what matters for whatever comes next, for that 10-year-plan. Occupy was first of all a great meeting ground. People who live too much in the virtual world with its talent for segregation and isolation suddenly met each other face-to-face in public space. There, they found common ground in a passion for economic justice and real democracy and a recognition of the widespread suffering capitalism has created.
Bonds were formed across the usual divides of age and race and class, between the housed and the homeless as well as the employed and jobless, and some of those bonds still exist. There was tremendous emotion around it -- the joy of finding you were not alone, the shame that was shed as the prisoners of debt stepped out of the shadows, the ferocity of solidarity when so many of us were attacked by the police, the dizzying hope that everything could be different, and the exhilaration in those moments when it already was.
People learned how direct democracy works; they tasted power; they found something in common with strangers; they lived in public. All those things mattered and matter still. They are a great foundation for the future; they are a great way to live in the present.
Maybe Occupy was too successful a brand in that it sometimes disguised how much this movement was part of popular surges going on around the world: the Arab Spring (including the three successful revolutions, the ongoing Syrian civil war, uprisings in Yemen, and more); the student uprisings in Montreal, Mexico, and Chile that have continued to develop and broaden; the economic revolts in Spain, Greece, and Britain; the ongoing demonstrations and insurrections around Africa; even various acts of resistance in India, Japan, China, and Tibet, some large and powerful. Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, these days a lot of the world is in some form of rebellion, insurrection, or protest.
And the family resemblances matter. If you add them all up, you see a similar fury at greed, political corruption, economic inequality, environmental devastation, and a dimming, shrinking future.
The Heroic Age
Nevertheless, the one-year anniversary is likely to produce a lot of mainstream media stories that will assure you Occupy was only a bunch of tents that came down last year, that it was naïve, and that’s that. Don’t buy it. Don’t be reasonable, don’t be realistic, and don’t be defeated. A year is nothing and the mainstream media is oblivious to where power lies and how change works, but that doesn’t mean you need to be.
That same media will tell you 99 ways from Tuesday how powerless you are and how all power is made by men in suits who won or bought elections, but don’t buy that either. Instead, notice how terrified Vladimir Putin was of three young performers in bright-colored balaclavas, and how equally frightened Wall Street is of us. They remember something we tend to forget: together we are capable of being remarkably powerful. We can make history, and we have, and we will, but only when we keep our eyes on the prize, pitch a big tent, and don’t stop until we get there.
We live in the heroic age itself, the age of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, of the Zapatistas in Mexico, of the Civil Rights Movement’s key organizers, including John Lewis and Reverend Joseph Lowery, and of so many nameless heroines and heroes from Argentina to Iceland. Their praises are often sung, and the kinds of courage, integrity, generosity of spirit, and vision they exhibited all matter, but I want to talk about another virtue we don’t think about much: it’s the one we call patience when we like it or it appears to be gentle, and stubbornness when we don’t or it doesn’t.
After all, Suu Kyi was steadfast during many years of house arrest and intimidation after a military junta stole the 1990 election she had won and only this year did the situation shift a little. The goals of the stubborn often seem impossible at inception, as did some of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, or for that matter the early nineteenth century abolitionist movementin the United States, which set out to eradicate the atrocity of slavery more than 30 years before victory -- a lot faster than the contemporaneous women’s movement got basic rights like the vote. Change happens, but it can take decades; and it takes people who remain steadfast, patient (or stubborn) for those same decades, along with infusions of new energy.
I suspect the steadfastness of the heroes of the great movements of our time came not only from facts but from faith. They had faith that their cause was just, that this was the right way to live on Earth, that what they did mattered, and they had those things decades before the results were in. You had to be unrealistic about the odds to go up against the Burmese generals or the Apartheid regime in South Africa or Jim Crow or 5,000 years of patriarchy or centuries of homophobia, and the unrealistic among us drew on their faith and did just that, with tremendous consequences.
Realism is overrated, but the fact is that the Occupy movement has already had extraordinary results. We changed the national debate early on and brought into the open what was previously hiding in plain sight: both the violence of Wall Street and the yearning for community, justice, truth, power, and hope that possesses most of the rest of us. We found out something that mattered about who we are: we found out just how many of us are furious about the debt peonage settled onto millions of “underwater” homeowners, people destroyed by medical debts, and students shackled by subprime educations that no future salaries will ever dig them out of.
And here was Occupy’s other signal achievement: we articulated, clearly, loudly, incontrovertably, how appalling and destructive the current economic system is. To name something is a powerful action. To speak the truth changes reality, and this has everything to do with why electoral politics runs the spectrum from euphemism and parallel-universe formulations to astonishing lies and complete evasions. Wily Occupy brought a Trojan horse loaded with truth to the citadel of Wall Street. Even the bronze bull couldn’t face that down.
Meeting the Possibilities Down the Road
A 10-year plan would function like a map: we could see where we had been, where we are, and where we want to go. In San Francisco, participants in the one-year anniversary events will burn student loan and mortgage contracts to symbolically free the prisoners of debt. In New York, Occupy Wall Street itself is focusing on debtor's assemblies and debt burnings for the one-year anniversary. This September 17th, practical goals will be announced, a Debt Resistors' Operations Manual will debut -- and who knows, in 10 years' time some of those goals could even be fully realized.
This will require unwavering determination, even when there are no results. It means not being sour about interim and incomplete victories, as well as actual defeats along the way. In 10 years, we could see some exciting things: the reversal of the harsh new bankruptcy laws, the transformation of educational financing, and maybe even a debt jubilee, along with major changes in banking and mortgage laws.
The victories, when they come, won’t be perfect. They might not even look like victories or like anything we ever expected, and there will be lots of steps along the way that purists will deplore as “compromise.” Just as anything you make from a cake to a book never quite resembles the Platonic ideal in your head, victories may not look like their templates, but you should celebrate them, however imperfect they may be, as further steps along the road and never believe that the road ends or that you should stop walking.
Still, if you’re talking about results, I’m convinced that pressure from Occupy and the student activists around it was what put student debt in the Democratic platform and has made it a major talking point of the Obama campaign. I worry that if, 10 years from now, the landscape of educational finance has been transformed for the better, no one will remember why or how it happened, or who started it all, so no one will celebrate or feel how powerful we really can be.
It will be taken for granted the way, say, voting rights are for those of us so long disenfranchised. Most people will forget the world was ever different, just as most people will never know that more than 100 coal-fired plants were not built in this country thanks to climate and environmental activists and few note that the Keystone XL pipeline would have been finished by now, were it not for 350.org and the rest of the opposition. This is why stories matter, especially the stories of our power, our victories, and our history.
Looking Back with Gratitude, Looking Forward With Fierceness
Once there was a great antinuclear movement in this country, first focusing on the dangers and follies of “peaceful” nuclear power, then on the evil of nuclear weapons, and it won many forgotten victories. Ever notice that we haven’t actually built a reactor since the 1970s, partly because safety standards got so much higher? Who now remembers the Great Basin MX missile installations that were never built, the nuclear waste dumps -- at Sierra Blanca, Ward Valley, and Yucca Mountain, among other places -- that never opened?
Who still even thinks about some of the arms-reduction treaties? And yet little of this would have happened if those antinuclear movements hadn’t existed. So thank an activist, and thank specifically the visionaries who showed up early and the stubborn ones who stayed to work on the issue long after the millions involved in the early 1980s nuclear-freeze movement had given up and gone home. Some of them are still at work, and we’re all beneficiaries.
One of the first groups in the round of antinuclear activism that began in the 1970s was the Clamshell Alliance created in 1976 to oppose New Hampshire’s proposed Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. One reactor was built and is still operating at Seabrook; one was cancelled due to opposition. Building the first reactor cost five times the initial estimate and led its owner, Public Service of New Hampshire, to what was then the fourth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history when it was unable to make ratepayers pick up the bill. You can read that as a partial victory, but Clamshell did so much more.
Their spirit and their creative new approach inspired activists around the country and helped generate a movement. Sixty-six nuclear power plants were cancelled in the wake of Clamshell. Keep in mind as well that the Clamshell Alliance and many of the antinuclear groups that followed developed non-hierarchical, direct-democracy methods of organizing since used by activists and movements throughout the U.S. and beyond, including Occupy Wall Street, whose consensus-based general assemblies owed a lot to a bunch of hippies no one remembers.
Bill Moyers met with Clamshell Alliance members in 1978, when he thought they were beginning to be victorious in inspiring a national movement and they thought they were failing. What he said is still worth quoting:
“That Friday night, I expected to meet a spirited, upbeat group that was proud of its accomplishments. I was shocked when the Clamshell activists arrived with heads bowed, dispirited, and depressed, saying their efforts had been in vain. The Clamshell experience of discouragement and collapse is far from unusual. Within a few years after achieving the goals of ‘take-off,’ every major social movement of the past 20 years has undergone a significant collapse, in which activists believed that their movements had failed, the powerful institutions were too powerful, and their own efforts were futile. This has happened even when movements were actually progressing reasonably well along the normal path taken by past successful movements!”
With Occupy, remarkable things have already happened, and more remarkable systemic change could be ahead. Don’t forget that this was a movement that spread to thousands of cities, towns, and even rural outposts across the country and overseas, from Occupy Tucson to Occupy Bangor. Remember that many of the effects of what has already happened are incalculable, and more of what is being accomplished will only be clear further down the road.
Go out into the streets and celebrate the one-year anniversary and start dreaming and planning for 2021, when we could -- if we are steadfast, if we are inclusive, if we keep our eyes on the prize, if we define that prize and recognize progress toward it and remember where we started -- be celebrating something much bigger. It’s a long road to travel, but we can get there from here.
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SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-12-12)
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, and is the author of Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).
The conflict in Syria now appears to be in stalemate; the Assad regime is unable to repress its opponents, but the Syrian opposition is also unable to overthrow the Assad regime. The conflict, then, rages on with no end in sight.
After experiencing the enormous costs and meager rewards of intervening in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is understandable why the U.S. and many of its allies are wary of intervening now in Syria. Nor does their successful intervention in Libya last year incline them to do so in Syria now, since a) the Libyan operation took much longer and was much costlier than they anticipated, and b) toppling Assad appears likely to be a far more formidable task than toppling Qaddafi.
Not intervening in Syria, though, has serious costs as well. The indefinite continuation of the conflict there not only means continued suffering for the Syrian people, but also for neighboring states that are partners with the West. Turkey and Jordan are having difficulty dealing with refugee flows from Syria -- which will only continue so long as the conflict continues. Little Lebanon not only risks being swamped by refugees, but the inter-communal conflict in Syria exacerbating its own inter-communal tensions. In addition, continued turmoil in Syria is going to have a negative impact on Israel at some point....
SOURCE: WSJ (9-12-12)
Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.
It is no accident that the Chicago teachers union would walk off the job, seeking a 29%, two-year wage settlement, days after the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. The Chicago teachers union and the podium speakers in Charlotte are part of the seamless political fabric that has been created by Barack Obama and the modern Democratic Party. They've got goals, and what they want from the people of Chicago or America is compliance.
The speakers in Charlotte fastened the party to a theme: We're all in it together. This claim is false. The modern Democratic Party, the party of Obama, is about permanent division and permanent opposition. You'd never have guessed they were speaking on behalf of an incumbent and historic presidency. One speaker after another ranted that the America system remains fundamentally unfair.
Despite seven Democratic presidencies since FDR, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Harvard still grieves, "The system is rigged!" Jennifer Granholm, who seems to have summered in Argentina, shouted that for Mitt Romney, "year after year, it was profit before people." The economics of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro (Stanford, Harvard Law): "It's a choice between a country where the middle class pays more so that millionaires can pay less." Sandra Fluke: "Six months from now, we'll all be living in one [future], or the other. But only one."
How is it that this generation of Democrats, nearly 225 years after the Constitutional Convention, sees 21st century America at the precipice of tooth and claw?...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-12-12)
Ty McCormick is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy.
SOURCE: WSJ (9-12-12)
Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.